London (AFP) – Manchester City took a huge step towards retaining the Premier League title as Kevin De Bruyne’s sublime strike sealed a 1-0 win against Chelsea, while the pressure mounted on Everton boss Rafael Benitez after a 2-1 loss at Norwich on Saturday.
De Bruyne broke Chelsea’s stubborn resistence with 20 minutes to play at the Etihad Stadium.
The Belgian midfielder escaped N’Golo Kante and bent a perfectly-placed shot into the far corner of Kepa Arrizabalaga’s goal from 20 yards.
City’s 12th successive league win moved them 13 points clear of second placed Chelsea, effectively ending the Blues’ title aspirations.
Third placed Liverpool, 14 points adrift of City with two games in hand, can close the gap with a win against Brentford on Sunday.
City manager Pep Guardiola admitted it was a vital victory in his team’s bid for a fourth title in five years.
But Guardiola refused to write off a late challenge from Liverpool or even Chelsea, who beat City in last season’s Champions League final.
“All the players gave everything and it was an important victory because they are a big contender,” Guardiola said.
“But in January no one is champion. We can think about Chelsea, and Liverpool have games in hand. If they win it will be eight points and eight points in January is nothing.”
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel appeared to send his team out with a defensive mindset.
But after the game, the German was critical of Romelu Lukaku, who gave the latest in a long list of subdued displays since his club record transfer from Inter Milan last year.
“Sometimes he has to do the service. He had many ball losses and a huge chance. Of course we want to serve him but he’s part of the team.” Tuchel said.
“The performance up front in the first half, we can do much, much better.”
– Benitez under fire –
At Carrow Road, Norwich moved off the bottom of the table to leave Benitez fighting to save his job.
Dean Smith’s side took the lead in the 16th minute with their first goal in seven matches since November.
Everton defender Michael Keane stuck out a foot to block Josh Sargent’s low cross, but instead diverted it into his own net.
Just 90 seconds later, Brandon Williams picked out Adam Idah and the young forward poked past Jordan Pickford.
With fans waving a ‘Benitez get out of our club’ banner, Brazil forward Richarlison reduced the deficit with an audacious overhead kick on the hour mark.
It wasn’t enough and Benitez, already disliked after his spell with Everton’s Merseyside rivals Liverpool, is in deep trouble with his team only six points above the relegation zone.
Watford rescued a 1-1 draw at fellow strugglers Newcastle thanks to Joao Pedro’s late leveller.
Allan Saint-Maximin gave Newcastle the lead in the 49th minute, pouncing on Jeremy Ngakia’s slip and jinking past two defenders before drilling a superb low strike beyond Ben Foster.
But Newcastle couldn’t add a killer second goal and Pedro made them pay with an 88th minute equaliser, the Brazilian thumping a header past Martin Dubravka from Kiko Femenia’s cross.
Newcastle, who gave a debut to New Zealand striker Chris Wood after his move from Burnley, slipped to second last and remain two points behind fourth-bottom Watford.
Newcastle boss Eddie Howe has managed only one league win since replacing Steve Bruce in November.
Wolves beat Southampton 3-1 at Molineux to extend their unbeaten league run to four games.
Raul Jimenez gave Wolves the lead with a 37th minute penalty awarded for Jan Bednarek’s foul on Rayan Ait-Nouri.
Conor Coady got their second in the 59th minute before Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse netted with an 84th minute free-kick.
Adama Traore wrapped up the points for Wolves in stoppage time.
Later on Saturday, Manchester United head to Aston Villa for a rematch of the FA Cup third round tie won 1-0 by Ralf Rangnick’s side at Old Trafford on Monday.
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